Tea 101: An introduction to Phoenix Dancong teas
Grown in the mineral-rich soil and biodiverse environment of Phoenix Mountain (鳳凰山), Guangdong province, Phoenix Dancong teas are famous for being dramatically aromatic – so aromatic, in fact, that they’re often described as “drinkable perfume”.
Dancong (單欉) means “single bush”, i.e., teas consisting of leaves from a single cultivar or a single plant. Unlike terraced tea gardens, this cultivation method allows each individual tea tree to grow to its natural height, which allows it to develop the phytonutrients and aromatic compounds that give Phoenix Dancong tea its signature fragrance.
Up in high altitudes, the Dancong tea groves are shrouded in cloud and mist in the spring, which slows the rate of growth of the leaves and concentrates their flavour.
The plucking standard for Dancong oolong teas is three to four leaves and no bud, as the larger leaves have more tea polyphenols that can be transformed through artisanal processing into incredible flavour and aroma compounds. Buds are best for making sweet, delicate white teas and greens that require less processing.
Dancong tea goes through intricate processing methods to achieve the optimal flavour and fragrance. There is no formula for this. Tea masters judge when it’s time to move to the next stage by sight, touch and smell alone — a method called 看茶做茶, meaning “See tea, make tea”.
The process is adjusted at every stage to account for differing weather conditions, which means no two batches are processed in exactly the same way.
The leaves are left to wilt under a controlled amount of sunlight.
The leaves are tossed on bamboo trays and in tumbling machines, changing the aroma from grassy to floral and fruity.
Once the desired level of oxidation is achieved, the leaves are heated in a tumble-roaster to halt oxidation.
Dancong leaves are rolled into strips, rather than balls, which also impacts the flavour.
The leaves are carefully roast-dried to prevent further oxidation and prepare for packaging.